Friday, August 11, 2017

empathy & harmony

The Emptiness Compass I use when navigating a participant’s journey is comprised of a series of paired words. The 12 paired words when used together are designed to help keep a participant focused on an exercise / task at hand to ensure they are remaining in process rather than product. My musings for this week’s newsletter bring me to one set of those paired words: empathy and harmony.

So, what do I mean by these words and what am I hoping a participant will gain by focusing on these two words?

Empathy. Let’s just check in with the definition as per the Oxford dictionary: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I have always been struck by a lack of empathy sometimes displayed by actors. By that I mean their lack of awareness of what their scene partner/s may or might be going through.

So, I started to generate a more formal and overt focus on ‘the other’ in my work. Trying to get the actor to think more about what are the obstacles faced by my partner or fellow actor while navigating choreography or a movement sequence. For example, an actor could ask themselves while pushing another actor to the floor: ‘how is this fellow actor dealing with wearing high heels and a long-complicated period dress as the try to fall?’

By simply framing a question like that: ‘how is my fellow actor dealing with x?’ Hopefully a stronger sense of empathy can be practised and then by developing that empathy an actor can feed into how they can better serve a fellow actor’s physical journey. With a desired outcome that creates better cohesion and therefore better physical storytelling.

Harmony. The Oxford gives us couple of meanings which are helpful: The quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole. The state of being in agreement or concord. Like empathy my reason for investing in this word was driven by noticing a lack of harmony in a lot of work I have seen over the years. Not always but often I see actors in their own head. I may have remembered this incorrectly but I seem to remember in Uta Hagen’s book (maybe Respect for Acting forgive me my books are in storage), she made mention that a lot of young actors often when first reading a play will usually just look for their part. Rather than the whole story.

What I took away from that in my early days as an actor was the lack of seeing the whole picture.  That has continued to sit with me as I witness actors not seeing the whole sequences of some movement or choreography but rather just their own bit within it. So, by bringing about a focus on harmony I am aiming to achieve an awareness of the whole. Blending is a word used in aikido a lot. I sometimes like to use that word as well.

Well hope that has helped you gain some smaller insight to why and how those words have come to mean something to me in my journey.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

listening & sensitivity

These are two words I often use in class. But what do I mean by them? Moreover, what am I expecting participants to learn and or gain from focusing on them? I guess in simple terms ‘listening’ is more than just the use of our ears. And it’s not just ‘listening’ to another actor.
When I say ‘listen’ I am referring to listening to;

·         The energy in the space

·         To partner through empathy

·         Fellow cast members around you

·         Direction

·         The crew

·         The audience

·         The prop/s you are working with

·         The set

·         The elements

·         To gravity
Sensitivity for me in the context of my training methods is my access point for better listening. The space between what/whom I am listening to and where my point of focused listening is coming from.

For example, I could be just holding a ladder in a scene. So how am I ‘listening’ to the ladder? Through conscious use of sensitivity, I could ask: How am I holding it? What material is it made of? How is gravity acting upon it? My sensitivity of touch, how light or firm I am holding the ladder allows me to be in harmony with it. That sensitivity of touch allows me to listen to my prop to gain the best working relationship with and how I can help it move in space.
Through a more developed sense of listening via sensitivity I am hoping to increase a participant’s ability to be at one with everything around them while in the moment of performance.

Friday, July 28, 2017

one day they will find out I am fraud...

I have always wanted to get a shirt made up that say: One Day They Will Find Out I am Fraud!!! Because I not only; live in the “here and now”, but I surf the” here and now”!  A delicate blade of risk, an edge that I could fall on either side of, however I trust myself as an artist, I must!  I never know what I am going to teach on the floor or what choices I will make on the floor (as an actor, director, fight director) – I have guide posts sure – but I need to see what is out there? What people I will be working with combined with the content.

Each new day brings a creative opportunity maybe that is all I am saying here –I am in a constant state; a creative state – I am not religious but I am extremely spiritual – I guess at the heart of it I am closest to a Taoist but I have tweaked that word over the years to mean (for me) a Nowist – Loa Tsu’s best phrase for me is – “The way that can be talked of –is not the way” – for me that encapsulates everything we do as artists and everything we do when trying to pass knowledge on to artists explaining acting cannot be locked down and it cannot be explained sometimes – it needs to BE experienced, I always say to student I am not here to “teach” (I do dislike that word) – I am here to share joy, discoveries, mistakes and fuck ups – that is my “way” of helping to point them in a way that they can best discover their “way”.... When I have a class – it should feel like we have in some way just created something – does that make sense, a class doesn’t just have to be in a vacuum...

Sunday, January 8, 2017

random thoughts of a new horizon...

The narrative in my head now given my age is to be more succinct with my education.

What fascinates me is that it doesn’t matter what I teach I get amazed at the lack of specifics most student don’t pick up on – they appeared to be obsessed with getting it right and the net loss is the details and specifics. It impossible  for an actor to look at the entire picture (by picture I mean choreography or sequence of movement etc) presented to them and then up load that and perform it straight away with extreme accuracy. I would even go so far as to say there is a disconnect between the upper body and the lower body in young actors today.

So what and how do I help to create a more detailed and specific physical actor ? That is my dramatic question.

My Principles are:
  • Process (working through something)
  • Product (result)
  • Content (task / exercise at hand)
During the exercises I set; students always struggle to
remain in process because they will think the content
is asking them for a product.

My belief is that to stay in a process a student needs to be in a state of emptiness. So to keep them in a state of emptiness I use this compass to help them navigate their own journey. The 12 points on the compass are access points for me to unpack further concepts and ideas. None of these words are original it's more about how I have arranged them in this compass.


Chaos & Order

 Spirit & Energy

Listening & Sensitivity

Time & Space

Structure & Alignment

Function & Form

Empathy & Harmony

Patience & Understanding

Versatility & Adaptability

Truth & Logic

Contrast & Contradiction

Problem Solving & Multi-tasking

The combination of the Emptiness Compass and the Principles makes up my iOS. To have a deeply well programmed iOS one needs to develop deep processing power. Once you have that the iOS runs in the background so one can make deliberate choices. To extend the metaphor a little; learning a waltz, sword fight, footwork, slapstick routine or any other expression of movement for story telling are just the 'aps' that are opened up and run by the iOS.

This is how I navigate an actor’s development and what is happening in the room for me so I can make a choice about their journey. And truly speak to the moment as a teach / to go where the class or moment is taking me and therefore truly be there for the student.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Interview that never made it to print...

Who runs your stage combat course? What is taught in it?
(Interview was done when I was a NIDA)
"'Stage combat' makes up an important  portion within the movement program of the NIDA Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) course and is taught alongside  clowning, slapstick, mask and physical risk. This work is complemented by training the actors in various dance forms, acrobatic and aerial skills, along with a range of approaches to characterisation and ensemble movement. The stage combat training is an important part of the students' preparation for NIDA's bi-annual production seasons. 
The term 'stage combat' is in some ways a bit dated. The skills that are involved in fighting for stage and screen go way beyond learning how to throw a punch and falling. We are asking our students to take a deeper look at the movement and movement systems inherit in fighting and physical risk-taking. We delve deeply into what is transpiring biomechanically, physiologically and neurologically to the body so that actors can gauge how their system is reacting and responding. They are developing skills to ensure that at any given moment they are working from the frontal lobe – from a place of cognition rather than just reacting from a place of fear – and as such, become a much safer actor on a higher level that involves both the mind and the body.
The first year of training in stage combat is dedicated to physical risk. Students are taken through a process-based learning pedagogy that asks students to recognise potentially dangerous movement and choreography in order to develop strategies for self-assessment and risk management. They are also taught fundamental combat and slapstick principles and techniques. This may include, but is not limited to: strikes, rolling, falling, sword and blade work. All this work culminates in performing a fight scene in class at the end of the year.
Second year is dedicated to fighting for camera. It is designed to equip students with a variety of firearm/knife disarms: blocks, locks and hand-to-hand techniques. Students will discuss, learn and apply how best to 'work the lens' with combative techniques. All skills are designed for the modern actor working in film and television. This culminates in a seven minute action film.
Third year is dedicated to fleshing out more weapons to ensure that the actors are ready for the industry and can adapt their training to a variety of weapon systems that may present themselves on the job. Students also learn and perform a violent scene on screen in order to gain experience with a working stunt co-ordinator."

Monday, November 2, 2015

Love this...

Neuromuscular Efficiency refers to the method by which muscles strengthen due to changes at the neuromuscular junction. In other words, the muscle strengthens because the connection between the brain and the muscle improve.

The two main improvements that lead to increased neuromuscular efficiency are:
1. Muscle fiber recruitment: The central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) learns to recruit more muscle fibers in response to the challenge of lifting heavier weights.

2. Rate Coding: The central nervous system sends faster signals to the muscle fibers so they contract more quickly and more forcefully.

As neuromuscular efficiency improves, strength goes up. In fact, much of the initial strength gain during any program is due to neuromuscular efficiency and not increased muscle mass.

From -

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

physical read...

To help the reader gain insight to the point of this post, I need to explain what a ‘line read’ is for our non-theatrical folks. A ‘line read’ is when a director gives an actor a specific way of saying a line – usually because the actor is not saying the way the director wants - or the actor just doesn’t 'get' the way the line needs to be delivered. Either way, this leaves little or no scope for the actor to find her own way - and from my experience it generally ends up sounding inauthentic.

If we look at this ‘line read’ concept in terms of fight choreography, often a fight director will do a move for an actor (in order to demonstrate). We could therefore say a fight director is giving a ‘physical read’ of the choreography. I have witnessed many fight directors show off the moves they give their actors!

This brings me to the point of this post. I think as fight directors, we need to be careful with ‘physical reads’. My observation is that an actor usually tries to emulate the move the fight director has done and the negative affect is this: the actor usually has crafted (or by accident) a particular shape / skeletal structure for a character, even if no strong physical characterization has taken place. So an audience will have that shape in their mind’s eye, consciously or not. When the actor comes to the moment or moments where they have simply copied the fight director, there is a distinct shift in shape.

As a fight director, I will usually do one of two things:  move like the actor, or do it a little 'bad'. The logic of dumbing down the move (ie doing it a little badly) is that I want the actor to think, "I  don’t want to move like that, I can do it better." Hence, they will invest in the movement for themselves and not simply replicate me. They will make the move their own. I want my work to be invisible.